Disclaimer: graphic language and sexual descriptions
Photo by Tina Wallace
Students at the University of Ottawa became the focus of nationwide debate about rape culture and Internet privacy after a sexually aggressive Facebook group chat about student federation president Anne-Marie Roy was posted online.
Roy has been the subject of support and scrutiny for her efforts to condemn the five students who participated in the conversation, four of whom were elected student officials at the U of O, and to denounce “toxic” attitudes toward sexual violence on campus.
“The fact that the five men could so casually discuss and joke about me and the position students have elected me to hold in such sexually violent ways points to how normalized rape culture, misogyny, and sexism are on our campus and in our society,” she said in an official statement.
“This kind of behaviour has clear impacts on women,” she continued. “It creates an environment that is intimidating, threatening and toxic. Women on this campus and in our society deserve better.”
The incidents began Feb. 10, during the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) election campaign, when Roy received photos of the group chat from an anonymous third party. On that day, she also received an email apology from all five participants. After reading week, Roy presented the men’s comments to members of the federation’s Board of Administration (BOA) at its meeting on Feb. 23.
The conversation consisted of SFUO vp social Pat Marquis, BOA representative Alexandre Giroux, federated body executives Alex Larochelle and Michel Fournier-Simard, and student Bart Tremblay, who holds no elected position.
Roy was given a cease and desist letter that listed the names of all but Marquis on the grounds that distributing the photos would be a violation of the men’s privacy. She was also informed that the four men were considering legal action.
Less than a week later, those photos were made public on the blog Bellejar.ca. The post includes screenshots with English translations, as about half the conversation takes place in French.
It begins with Tremblay, who writes that the “president will suck me off in her office chair and after I will fuck her in the ass on Pat’s desk.” He then clarifies that this is in reference to Roy.
“Someone punish her with their shaft,” says Larochelle.
The conversation turns to doubts about Roy’s city of origin, before Giroux remarks that “if you fuck Anne-Marie, I will definitely buy you a beer.” Marquis says he’ll “get a 24 for Bart if he does it.” The documented part of the conversation ends with two of the men debating whether Roy has a sexually transmitted infection.
All four student officials have since resigned from the SFUO, and the four who had threatened legal action no longer intend to do so.
“I am very sorry this has happened,” Marquis said in his letter of resignation on March 1. “I have shown desire to cooperate and find solutions of accountability, but in this case resignation is the ultimate measure of accountability to the students.”
Two days later, in an email apology to Roy, he said the conversation included some poor word choices and that he should have intervened. He suggested workshops to de-normalize this type of talk and to help men become “effective challengers” when they witness it.
“Throughout my experiences of challenging men when they say unacceptable things, I often get laughed at,” he said.
“I was normalized to this kind of talk through hockey locker rooms and even though I knew things were wrong I would be extremely uncomfortable calling other people out on their mistakes,” he continued. “Workshops where men can learn to call out other men comfortably would be great.”
Marquis explained that his decision to resign was based on the receipt of hate mail and threats, which made him feel unsafe in his position.
On a Facebook page created to demand the resignation of the four men, the Indigenous and Canadian Studies Students’ Association wrote that it “does not, in any way, endorse or encourage any kind of abuse or threats of violence” against them.
“We want these men removed from their positions as student representatives; we certainly do not want them to become in turn the recipients of the violence and abuse they have doled out,” the post read. “Violence and abuse should not be tolerated towards anyone, no matter one’s dislike for them. That has been our point all along.”
Marquis and Larochelle had been in talks with Roy to discuss the steps they can take to ensure accountability and address the issue, but Roy said it’s “incredibly disappointing” that the other three participants did not reach out.
Larochelle directed his resignation from the position of vp social of the Criminology Students’ Association to Roy shortly after Marquis submitted his.
“My immediate apology and attempts to resolve the recent situation with as little hurt and disrespect as possible have not been successful,” Larochelle wrote. “I deeply regret my comments (although private) and despite my commitment to the students I no longer feel I can represent you.”
Larochelle’s parents, Kingston police Chief Gilles Larochelle and Tessa Youngson-Larochelle, said they stand by their son as “his words do not reflect his true character or values” and he knows he was wrong.
“Alexandre made a mistake that he has apologized for and resigned from a position he was very committed to,” they wrote in a statement. “He regrets the hurt he has caused. We ask you to give him the chance to learn and make amends.”
Fournier-Simard resigned from his post as vp social on the Political, International and Development Studies Students Association. He said all four men stepped down “in the best interest of their respective associations to allow them to continue their activities effectively.” Giroux resigned from his seat on the BOA and from his position as vp social of the Science Students’ Association.
Giroux, Fournier-Simard, and Tremblay did not provide further comment.
U of O president Allan Rock stepped in to condemn the aggressive comments on behalf of the university, saying they have “no place on campus.” Rock met personally with Roy to offer his support.
“The comments demonstrate attitudes about women and sexual aggression that have no place on campus, or anywhere else in Canadian society,” Rock said in the statement. “The university will work with our student president to ensure the situation is addressed properly.”
The university’s official statement did not include any mention of sanctions against the men involved.